I’m pissed off because I thought I was getting a RomCom. With no other fanfare to go off, I saw Mark Ruffalo on a bland film poster gazing at Keira Knightley, and figured it would probably be on par with Ruffalo’s last dalliances as a romantic lead. Which is a longwinded way of saying I had zero expectations of this actually being a good film.
I did not get a RomCom. What I got was one of the sweetest, most unpretentious films I’ve seen in a long time; I got a well-told story and well-written characters. Actions were relatable and situations were believable. The lead character, Gretta, had her own agency and was solidly likeable, and dealt with unfolding events with grace and empathy. No one gave a speech, no one sat through an awkward first date, and no offensively wistful voiceovers helped to drive home the emotional ramifications of each plot point, all of which I would happily expect from a RomCom. Everything was charming and nothing was formulaic.
Which goddamn pisses me off.
You see, I spend a lot of time watching films. I spend a lot of time reading about films. And over the last year or so, I’ve been really worried that my love of cinema is somehow dwindling because I just don’t get excited about new releases the way I used to. Begin Again has just helped me come to the realisation that it’s not films that I’m getting tired of, it’s how they’re being sold to us.
We are so used to the Sci-Fi/ Action Movie trailer structure that you and I could write one right now without needing to pause for thought – ‘in a TIME of DARKNESS..[CG-laden panning shot across urban sprawl]..in a CITY beyond HOPE..[snapcut of blurry action sequence]..ONE MAN WILL SAVE US ALL’…[midshot of bruised, muddy, but fetchingly ripped protagonist, filmed from the back so he can glance over his shoulder and grimace at us]. We can spot a drama by the amount of references to awards you get: if people are introduced by their relationship to the Academy Awards, you know it’s going to be worthy as all get-out, and possibly involve wigs. Don’t even get me started on the never-ending announcements that this new film is somehow the Film Event of the Year, which they’ll happily trot out describing anything involving computer graphics – even if said film has a February release date.
Superhero movies, which started off as a breath of fresh air, are now becoming the worst culprits of paratextual dickswinging. Thanks to them, we now have trailers for other trailers. We have behind the scenes footage before we’ve seen the film from the front. Selling a film has become a massive, multilayered campaign. And it’s blocking the light to these incredibly sweet, unassuming films that deserve to be watched and celebrated. We sit around having angry conversations about how women are represented on screen, how androcentric films are becoming – and we’re right to do so. But I’m not sure I believe that this is down to a lack of well-written, non-white-male characters anymore; I’m starting to suspect that great films are being made and slipping past us simply because studios couldn’t figure out how to properly sell them to us.
I thought I didn’t really care that romantic films are directly sold to women or for ‘date nights’ that seem to involve dragging and cajoling a guy to give something you want to watch a second glance. Anything they need to do to promote the film, right? Wrong. Begin Again doesn’t belong with Friends With Benefits, or Going The Distance, or any of the other films that have been sold entirely on the chemistry of the two leads and a new take on an old genre. It belongs on the shelf next to Once, High Fidelity, Almost Famous, and all of the other gently brilliant films about the curative power of music, and how we relate to each other through sharing songs. I think what’s happening here is that we’re getting to a point where any film that deals with relationships on any level is going to get labeled and sold as a chick flick, and thereby missed by people who don’t consider themselves as part of the target audience.
We need more films like this that don’t fit labels, that don’t seem tailored to particular demographics. We need to take more chances and give more cultural space to films that don’t contain origin stories or training montages, otherwise we’re going to end up a sea of disaffected schlubs trying to relate to a man who has to save the universe because some old dude prophesied he could, in the remake of the sequel of the adaptation of the year™. Staying open minded and not being put off by something that doesn’t look like your cup of tea is getting harder and harder to do, but we have to keep trying.
Riven Alyx Buckley is a professional appreciator and amateur word wrangler. Usually up to coffee-fuelled mischiefs, you can follow her here (wordiebirdie.tumblr.com) or on the Geeked tumblr. She’s recently opened Buckley’s Boomsticks on Etsy, selling custom painted cosplay prop guns.